Abrasive. Controversial. Confrontational. Heavy words can be used to describe this game changer, Paul Mooney. He is a social critic. He speculates over equality and American politics. He voices society’s problems while simultaneously creating roaring audiences. Widely known as Richard Pryor’s right hand, Mooney has had quite the career of his own. He has written for TV. He has released comedy specials. He has even authored a book, Black is the New White, documenting his relationship with Pryor and comedy. He is a well rounded comedian with an even more well rounded beginning.
Paul Mooney, originally born in Louisiana as Paul Gladney, was raised in Oakland, California by his grandmother. Mooney’s start into show business sounds like an antiquated story of yore. At a young age, he ran away, and he became the ringmaster for the Charles Gody Circus. While in the circus, he found himself writing comedy bits. Mooney’s beginning doesn’t stop there. He joined an improv group FTA (Fuck The Army) which included Peter Boyle, Donald Sutherland, and Jane Fonda. They were protesting the Vietnam war. He moved to Los Angeles. The comic tried out for anything which would help pay his bills including Playboy After Dark, a tv show hosted by Hugh Hefner. Mooney appeared as one of the beautiful faces.
He met Richard Pryor about this time in the mid 1960s. Pryor was dating a friend of Mooney’s sister. On the night they met, Pryor suggested the four have an orgy without knowing the relation between Mooney and his sister. Mooney kicked Pryor out of the apartment, but not much later, the two cleared things up. Mooney became Pryor’s biggest fan and closest friend. The two started hitting the comedy clubs together. They went to Redd Foxx’s club and were influenced by Foxx’s truth in comedy, especially his openness about race. They went to Ye Little Club where Mooney was able to find his voice. Joan Rivers was hitting the same stage.
Mooney started writing for TV including Sanford & Sons and Good Times. He was one of the few black writers and at times, the only one, in the business. When Pryor began to get notoriety, he enlisted Mooney as a writer. Mooney wrote his Saturday Night Live sketches, including the racially charged “Word Association.” The job interview sketch definitely marks a different time with words that would be bleeped out for today’s TV standards. Pryor made him the head writer for The Richard Pryor Show where he gave quite a few comics their starts. Later, he was the head writer for the first season of In Living Color. He created the stand-out sketch character Homey D. Clown, an ex con who performs for kids to meet parole agreements. As time has gone on, he has appeared on the Chappelle’s Show for the sketches, “Ask A Black Dude,” “Mooney at the Movies,” and “Negrodamus.” In these last few years, he has made headlines from things he has said on stage to being diagnosed with cancer. Mooney still tours, and he is still causing controversy.
This is a man who set has set many standards across the board. He has ushered through black writers and introduced America to muted thoughts on racism. He helped Richard Pryor to become Richard Pryor. Before him, not much was not being said. Paul Mooney has said a lot. It’s deep and provocative. Paul Mooney is a game changer.